The Foothill towns of Rewalsar and Shimla

At the southern end of Himachal Pradesh, are two hillside towns with very different history and architecture. One is steeped in legends from 3 religions the other is full of British colonial architecture. 

Rewalsar is a small village set on the hills around the holy lake in Rewalsar. The legend of the lake revolves around Guru Rinpoche who brought the current form of Buddhism to Tibet. The ruling king heard that his daughter was going to run away with Guru Rinpoche. The king tried to kill them both by setting them on fire. Guru Rinpoche had supernatural powers, so he was able to change the fire into a lake and as the fire went out, Guru Rinpoche was sitting on a lotus flower in the middle of the lake. They say his spirit lives on an island in the lake. Today there is a massive 37.5m (123ft) golden statue of Guru Rinpoche on a hill above the lake with a Buddhist Temple in its base. With the morning light shining on the statue it has a nice reflection on the lake.

Rewalsar Lake
Rewalsar Lake
Guru Rinpoche above Rewalsar Lake
Guru Rinpoche above Rewalsar Lake
Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Guru Rinpoche, Rewalsar
Guru Rinpoche, Rewalsar
Guru Rinpoche, Rewalsar Lake
Guru Rinpoche, Rewalsar Lake
Guru Rinpoche, Rewalsar Lake
Guru Rinpoche, Rewalsar Lake
Buddhist Temple at Guru Rinphoce statue, Rewalsar Lake
Buddhist Temple at Guru Rinphoce statue, Rewalsar Lake

There are also legends in Hinduism and Sikhism about Rewalsar. An important Hindu sage meditated here and was blessed by the Hindu God, Shiva. The 10th Sikh Guru visited the area in an attempt to work with the Hindu leaders to keep their faith safe from the invading moguls. A gurudwara was built in Rewalsar to perpetuate his memory. These 3 legends make Rewalsar Lake a very important place for all 3 religions. In the small village, there are at least 3 Buddhist monasteries, 3 Hindu temples and a large Sikh gurudwara. The town has a very peaceful feel, in spite of or maybe because of these 3 religions.

Hindu Temple, Rewalsar
Hindu Temple, Rewalsar
Hindu Temple, Rewalsar
Hindu Temple, Rewalsar
Sikh Gurudwara, Rewalsar Lake
Sikh Gurudwara, Rewalsar Lake
Buddhist Gompa, Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Buddhist Gompa, Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Buddhist Gompa, Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Buddhist Gompa, Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh

At the southern end of Himachal Pradesh is the colonial city of Shimla. It has a beautiful setting on a long mountain ridge with buildings and roads going from the ridge top to the valley below. Shimla was established in the 1800s by the British as a hill station where they could escape the Indian summer heat. The city’s downtown is on the top of the ridge and is filled with old colonial buildings, a cobble stone pedestrian street and iron rod fences. It almost makes you think you’re in England. The colonial buildings on the pedestrian mall now house many good restaurants and western clothing shops. Shimla is a very clean city, the cleanest we’ve seen yet in India. There are public garbage bins that are actually used, and garbage is collected on a regular basis. It doesn’t feel like India at all.

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Downtown Shimla
Downtown Shimla
Downtown Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Downtown Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Downtown Shimla
Downtown Shimla
Shimla police
Shimla police
Downtown Shimla
Downtown Shimla
Colonial building in ruins, Shimla
Colonial building in ruins, Shimla
Rothney Castle, Shimla
Rothney Castle, Shimla
Christ Church, Shimla
Christ Church, Shimla
Downtown Shimla
Downtown Shimla
Shima, Himachal Pradesh
Shima, Himachal Pradesh

The important feature of this city is the 33m tall pink statue of Hanuman that stands on the hill above town. Hanuman is a Hindu god that is also known as the Monkey God. It’s fitting that it’s here because Shimla is overrun with Rhesus monkeys. Most are subdued, but a few growl and try to steal your food, sunglasses or camera. They hang out in the pedestrian mall and line the walkway that leads up to the Hanuman statue. The statue is high above town and has a good lookout of both Shimla and the city on the other side of the ridge.

Hanuman statue, Shimla
Hanuman statue, Shimla
Hanuman Statue, Shimla
Hanuman Statue, Shimla
Rhesus Monkey, Shimla
Rhesus Monkey, Shimla
City on the other side of the ridge from Shimla
City on the other side of the ridge from Shimla
Indian flag, with Hanuman on the hill, Shimla
Indian flag, with Hanuman on the hill, Shimla
Christ Church with Hanuman on the hill, Shimla
Christ Church with Hanuman on the hill, Shimla

Just outside of Shimla is an old colonial building, Viceregal Lodge. On the walk to it we saw several of the gentle and beautiful Grey Langur monkeys. They are very good jumpers and move with more grace than the Rhesus monkeys. Viceregal Lodge is a gorgeous colonial building that looks like it should be on a hillside in Scotland rather than in India. Its surrounded by a well-maintained botanical garden with gorgeous flowers and a manicured lawn. It was nice to end our time in Himachal Pradesh in a clean city with great restaurants.

Grey Langur Monkey, Shimla
Grey Langur Monkey, Shimla
Grey Langur Monkey, Shimla
Grey Langur Monkey, Shimla
Grey Langur Monkey, Shimla
Grey Langur Monkey, Shimla
Viceregal Lodge, Shimla
Viceregal Lodge, Shimla

Coming up next: The incredible views on the Kuari Pass Trek

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Northern India. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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